“Heart” (1823)

Warren S. Walker (Texas Tech University)

Originally published in Warren S. Walker, Plots and Characters in the Fiction of James Fenimore Cooper (Hamden, CT: Archon Books, 1978), pp. 52-54.

Copyright © 1978 by Warren S. Walker.  Placed online with the kind permission of Warren S. Walker, and of Shoe String Press, Inc.

[May be reproduced for instructional use by individuals or institutions; commercial use prohibited.]

Chapter numbers [in square brackets] have been inserted by the webmaster at approximately the point where each chapter begins, to facilitate locating particular plot incidents in the text.

— Hugh C. MacDougall

“Heart” is the second of two stories in Tales for Fifteen, a slight volume of fiction written by Cooper under the pseudonym Jane Morgan. [1] The story opens with a street scene in New York City. As Maria Osgood, twenty, and her friend and distant relative Charlotte Henley, seventeen, are walking along a busy street on a wintry day, they observe a crowd gathered around a man writhing on the sidewalk. Maria declares him a drunkard and urges that they pass on without delay. Charlotte thinks the man ill rather than drunk and she is distressed that none of the onlookers makes any move to assist the afflicted stranger. Seymour Delafield, a wealthy young bachelor in the crowd, observes both Charlotte’s beauty and her sympathy for the sufferer, and admires her greatly for both these qualities. When George Morton appears on the scene, Charlotte is confident that this young man, who is all heart, will aid the stricken stranger. Her good opinion of him is justified as George places the man, who has suffered a fit, in a hired hack and takes him to an almshouse where he can be given medical attention. As the carriage drives away, Charlotte expresses her concern that George, in frail health, is not wearing any overcoat. Maria then introduces Charlotte to Delafield, who walks the girls home, engaging them en route in witty conversation.

At the dinner table that evening Maria tells Mr. and Mrs. Henley that their daughter has made a great conquest in winning the admiration of the city’s most prominent and most eligible young bachelor, Seymour Delafield. Like many another young lady, Maria herself was interested in Delafield, but in vain, she admits. The elder Henleys, concerned that Charlotte, the only survivor of their six children, be happily married, take note of a possible relationship between their daughter and young Delafield. George Morton, finding his family gone out, comes to the Henley home for supper. He is obviously chilled from his exposure to the weather but he insists that he is quite well.

[2] On the following evening the Osgoods have a music party to which they invite many fashionable guests. Mr. and Mrs. Osgood hope that such social occasions will further the matrimonial interests of their thirteen children, most of whom are daughters. Among those who play solos is Seymour Delafield, who attends the party primarily because he knows that Charlotte will be present. He plays the flute superbly but soon realizes that his performance moves Charlotte far less than the mediocre flute playing of George Morton that follows. George is really too ill now to perform at all, but he feels an obligation to carry out a commitment to contribute to the entertainment. Charlotte persuades George, after his performance, to return home for proper medical treatment and rest.

[3] Shortly after Maria arrives at the Henley home next morning, both George and Seymour pay social calls. George quickly excuses himself, declaring that he is not in fit condition to be good company. A few minutes later, Maria, aware of Delafield’s growing infatuation with Charlotte, finds an excuse to leave the room. Alone now with Charlotte, Delafield declares his love for her and makes a proposal of marriage. Greatly surprised at such a definite avowal of affection from a man she has known for only three days, Charlotte politely but firmly declines his offer.

[4] Having been pursued by many young women (and their parents) for his wealth and personal attractiveness, Seymour Delafield is stunned that his first marriage proposal is rejected. He continues for a short time to call at the Henley home, but piqued at last by Charlotte’s aloofness, he declares the girl heartless. As the winter progresses, his attention is shifted to Maria, who becomes first his confidante and then his fiancée.

In the meantime George Morton’s cold worsens, and an inflammation of the lungs develops. By early spring the doctor pronounces his case incurable. As warm weather returns, however, the Mortons and the Henleys move to their adjacent country houses, both families filled with renewed hope for George’s recovery. Such hope is short-lived. [5] The medical prognosis is borne out, and George dies on a balmy day in June. In a deathbed scene, George and Charlotte declare their love for each other, a love which they understand to be eternal.

Maria and Seymour are soon married, but Charlotte remains single, ” ... showing how much Imagination is inferior to Heart” (p. 223). George died for “heart,” his fatal illness having commenced during his rescue of the stricken stranger from the cold street, and now Charlotte remains faithful to him as a matter of “heart.”

Seymour Delafield, Henley, Mrs. Henley, Charlotte Henley, George Morton, Maria Osgood.